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Breen’s research on the truly Revolutionary War

Just how revolutionary was the American Revolutionary War? Pretty revolutionary, according to historian T. H. Breen, who has written a recently-published book examining the thinking that went on behind the American colonies’ break with the mother country. What we call the American Revolution cannot be linked to a single moment such as the signing of […]

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The woman who created Nancy Drew, the Ratline podcast, and reader reactions; newsletter, October 18, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,665) on Friday, October 18, 2019.     Rain finally arrived in East Tennessee this week after an absence of about 45 days. It was greatly welcomed. There wasn’t a lot of rain but enough to begin turning the ground from brown to green. The hope […]

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The Grapes of Wrath, written in 100 days, by a man with a mission

It took John Steinbeck less than 100 days in 1937 to write one of the 20th century’s great novels, The Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck was a writer and resident of Salinas, California, at the time. It was a town located near a migrant worker camp, and Steinbeck had witnessed the poverty, degradation, and oppression of those […]

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Henry Timberlake, his adventure and his sad end (part 1)

Henry Timberlake‘s short life came to a sad end. He died in 1765 in debtor’s prison in London, there because of some unfortunate but well-meaning decisions and some truly bad luck. He was somewhere between 30 and 35 years. We’re not exactly sure when he was born. We probably wouldn’t remember Timberlake at all except […]

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FDR’s wordman, an adventure into Cherokee territory, and a Mozart myth: newsletter, Aug. 30, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,680) on Friday, August 30, 2019.   My comments last week about the difficulties of traveling brought reactions from some of you, and I appreciate your responses. Many people still enjoy traveling despite the hassles. If you’ve been someplace interesting in the last few weeks, let […]

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Teddy Roosevelt: "I am DEE-lighted."

Nigel Hamilton’s FDR, where Joseph Campbell began, John Wesley, and banana peels: newsletter, Aug. 16, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,696) on Friday, August 16, 2019. Two big events this week: the publication of two books that we had been working on for the Friends of the Blount County Library. One is Loyal Mountaineers: The Civil War Memoirs of Will A. McTeer, which we mentioned in the newsletter several […]

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Bouton’s ‘Ball Four,’ mystery recommendations, and Mark Twain’s delight: newsletter, July 26, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,7xx) on Friday, July 26, 2019.   Three weeks ago when we extracted the honey from our beehives, the last part of the process was putting the “wet” frames back onto the hives. These are frames that contain honey, but the amounts are too small […]

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Writing the national anthem, ripping off Dickens, publishing a Civil War memoir: newsletter, July 5, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,747) on Friday, July 5, 2019. I hope that everyone in America (and elsewhere) is having a happy Fourth of July and its aftermath. In America, we celebrate with fireworks, ice cream, baseball, cherry pie, cookouts, and just about anything else we can think of […]

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America’s first female police officer, Dan Jenkins, lots of emails, and a modest proposal: newsletter, March 22, 2019

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,866) on Friday, March 22, 2019.   The tractor came out of the barn and had a pretty good workout this week. We had a string of dry days that allowed me — finally! — to get into the garden with some much-needed sub-soiling and […]

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Kate Warne, the world’s first female detective (part 1)

If the name of Kate Warne is unknown to you, you’re not alone. Most of the world has never heard of her, that is too bad — particularly with those of us in the detective-fiction-to-true-crime crowd. Kate Warne, as far as we can tell, is the first woman ever hired as a fulltime, true-to-life detective. […]

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Joseph Priestly’s big writing idea, a winter’s read recommendation, and radio drama from the BBC: newsletter, Dec. 7, 2018

This newsletter was sent to all of the subscribers on Jim’s list (2,977) on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018.     In light of the reduction of our beehives, which I reported last week, I have come across a couple of substantial articles about bees and insects in this environment. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance […]

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by Charles Turner, after  James Gillray, mezzotint, published 1819 (circa 1800)

James Gillray: puncturing the pompous with caricature

Caricature is fairly common today (even amateurs like me try their hand at it), but in the late 18th century, it was a newly developing form of art, as well as social and political communication. And no one was better at it — a set a higher standard for others of his and those who […]

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A writer who didn’t want to be edited, the ‘real’ Moriarty, and your good words: newsletter, Nov. 23, 2018

  Thanks for the many emails about the words that we use and the ones we don’t hear enough. This week’s word, of course, is gratitude, in line with the Thanksgiving holiday that Americans have celebrated this week. All of us have much to be thankful for. I do my best to remind myself of that […]

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WinstonChurchill

Winston Churchill: yet another biography, but just what we need

By Andrew Roberts’ count, there are slightly more than 1,000 biographies of Winston Churchill. That’s one for almost every page of his massive new biographyChurchill: Walking with Destiny. So, why write another one — particularly one of such length. Surely by now, we should be able to reduce Churchill to just three or four hundred […]

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Fanny Burney: paving the way for Jane Austen and the Brontes

Before there was Jane Austen, before there was George Eliot, before there were Charlotte and Emily Bronte — before even women were supposed to be able to write in this new developing form called a novel — there was Fanny Burney (1752-1840). Burney, daughter of Dr. Charles Burney, a well-known scholar and music teacher of the second half […]

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Bill Mauldin, the voice of the grunt

Those who served in the United States military as enlisted men and women — particularly from World War II through Vietnam — have a particular affinity for Bill Mauldin. Mauldin was an artist whose cartoons depicted, with brilliant perception, brutal honesty, and insightful humor, the life of the everyday “grunt,” the guy who dug the ditches, […]

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The difficult Noah Webster and his difficult times

Noah Webster was a difficult man living in a difficult time. In 1806, when he published the first edition of his dictionary, it was judged not for its content but by for the political positions of the author. Webster was a Federalist, but he had with Republican attitudes about the language Americans spoke.  Because of his apostasy, […]

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Toss your sundials – mechanical clocks are here to stay

You probably have a sundial or two still laying around the house. Well, it’s probably time to let the garbage guys (and gals) carry it away. Mechanical clocks are here, and they’re not going away. That could have been the message to the people of Salisbury, England, in 1386 when the mechanical clock was installed in […]

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Luck, chance, courage and daring – another heroic tale from World War II 

Joachim Ronneberg, like so many other courageous individuals during World War II, tried to do what he could to fight off the Nazi invasion and oppression of his nation. He didn’t mean to become a hero. But that’s what happened. In 1943, Ronneberg and eight fellow resistance fighters skied across the Telemark pine forest, mostly […]

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GenGrant

Good advice for the General: Write like you talk

As a writing teacher of several decades, I never cared for the advice “write like you talk.” Most people don’t talk all that well. Besides, writing is a different process from talking. Talking is easy. Writing is hard. But “write like you talk” was the advice that Ulysses S. Grant got from Robert S. Johnson, […]

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